Black Colleges Use Esports to Attract Students and Hook them on Science and Engineering

Black Colleges Use Esports to Attract Students and Hook them on Science and Engineering

The holiday gift that keeps teenagers on the sofa with game controllers in their hands may help parents pay their college tuition. For some, training to compete in cyberspace contests like Fortnite and NBA2K could soon replace training for team sports — and create a new scholarship pipeline and professional opportunities after graduation.

Gaming and esports are becoming sources of camaraderie and competition for students at HBCUs. Three of the four HBCU athletic conferences have corporate partnerships with developers of gaming platforms that allow students to compete against on-campus peers as well as students at schools in their conferences. And this popular form of social entertainment is quickly becoming more than just a pastime.

“Having an esports presence is very important to our institutions in the future,” Southwestern Athletic Conference Associate Commissioner Jason Cable said.

Fortnite is a wildly popular videogame whose best players can compete for college scholarship money. (Epic Games)

Esports teams and individuals compete head-to-head in live online competitions. The industry has grown rapidly worldwide, with annual revenues exceeding $1 billion and global audiences of more than 443 million, according to research by Green Man Gaming.

Most conventional sports franchises took financial losses last spring as American sports leagues postponed events and slashed their schedules to avoid exposing players and fans to the coronavirus. Esports tournaments picked up the slack through sports network TV. College and high school students looking for new ways to live, work, learn and play turned to competitive video gaming more than ever, making esports a cultural force.

Total enrollment at America’s 101 black colleges and universities dropped by 6,000 in the 2018-19 school year. School administrators see a new way to help recover.

“Our institutions are looking to increase enrollment and retain students, and esports gives them a chance to do both,” Cable said.  “It’s the next big thing.”

Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams said gaming and esports, which are grounded in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, benefit students academically.

“The move into esports aligns with the educational experience in STEM and overall strategic plan that remains consistent with efforts to continuously grow our brand and advance our students,” McWilliams said.

McWilliams’ athletic conference is one of three dedicated HBCU sports leagues that have attracted corporate sponsorships for competitive gaming platforms and tournaments while athletic sports remain on partial hiatus.

Gamers can compete in tournaments for scholarship money and for the attention of professional sports franchises that may hire the esports movement’s most talented competitors. There were 500 known esports franchises that earned between $95,000 and $36 million in tournaments by the end of 2019, according to Esports Earnings, which tracks the flow of money in the nascent industry. Some socially distant tournaments award as much as $750,000 in prize money.

Educators are more excited about the impact on black students’ professional opportunities when they embrace STEM fields as part of their immersive gaming experience. Programming, software development and cybersecurity can give them the inside track on lucrative career paths.  Some are groomed through academic programs as early as high school, preparing them for athletic esports scholarships.

More than 100 U.S. and Canadian schools offer esports scholarships, following the lead of Robert Morris University Illinois, an institution that has since merged into Roosevelt University. Robert Morris Illinois offered subsidies for members of its first varsity-level Sports League of Legends team in 2014. Some packages today can be worth as much as $76,000 over four years of competitive eligibility. The most talented gamers can defray half of their tuition, room and board.

HBCUs aren’t offering scholarships but want students to think outside their Xbox. HBCU Heroes, a nonprofit launched by former NCAA and NBA champion George Lynch and business partner Tracey Pennywell, raises money to help those schools level the playing field with competitive scholarship offers to student athletes. Now that platform includes esports.

The most talented gamers in America can earn college scholarships that cover half of their tuition, room and board expenses. (campuspartymexico/CC)

Larger universities have vastly more support from sponsors and alumni than most HBCUs.

“My experience at [the University of] North Carolina was on a whole other level,” Lynch said. “We played in the ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference], who had the big TV deal, then went to the Final Four and brought back millions of dollars to subsidize the Olympic sports. But most of the traditional HBCUs that we played when I was coaching didn’t have the funding in the athletic department to support the student-athlete’s needs.”

Lynch saw how tight budgets held back athletes at small black colleges while he was head men’s basketball coach at Clark Atlanta University.

“We learned that STEM and cybersecurity is part of gaming,” Lynch said. “Our goal is to fund 12 labs at HBCUs where students can have a curriculum in STEM and develop their skills that give them options other than [major universities] to learn about them.”

Texas Southern University in Houston has extended its sports management program to include an esports curriculum. The interdisciplinary approach is focused on the management side of staging events, designing games and developing sound systems.

Dr. Kenyatta Cavil, interim associate dean of academic affairs in TSU’s College of Education, said he oversaw development of the program to empower students.

“We want the students to get out of the mindset of just being on the couch. We want them to know what’s on the other side of the games,” Cavil said. “We’re trying to be intentional about getting HBCU students into the business segment of the [esports] marketplace.”

(Edited by David Martosko and Jameson O’Neal.)



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Contract-Cheating Companies Tempt Time-Strapped Students

Contract-Cheating Companies Tempt Time-Strapped Students

While college students like Brigham Young University’s Cici Woods count pennies to pay for classes, possibly thousands of her classmates use — and maybe get cheated by — contract-cheating services. Companies are selling online undergraduate and postgraduate essays written on-demand, tailored to their assignment.

It’s not only academic fraud, which undermines education. But it also leaves participating students open to blackmail.

The term “contract cheating” was first coined in the early 2000s by Thomas Lancaster, a senior teaching fellow at Imperial College London, and his colleague Robert Clarke. In the ensuing years, a global crackdown on cheating services has made little progress, with the internet era producing online essay mills for eager students.

All students now know somewhere they can go and buy an essay or assignment. Even if they’re not interested, they will get targeted advertising through social media,” said Lancaster.

What initially seemed like a niche problem grew quickly, with 15.7% of college students committing contact cheating, show studies done in 2014–2018, according to a systemic review by Frontiers in Education. When extrapolated, that potentially represents 31 million people. Despite the highly visible marketing of essay mills, the industry is full of secrets.

“At the criminal end, we’re seeing more (UK) students come forward to say they’ve paid for essays and are now being blackmailed, an outcome that students just don’t consider when they’re handing personally identifiable information over,” said Lancaster.

Although the number of blackmail cases has increased, according to a study of Western Australian students, only 10% of contract-cheating students in the study stated they were aware of the risk. Even students who avoid detection are getting scammed. U.K. research found 31% of essay mills use misleading advertising, and the majority do not guarantee content that earns a passing grade, per findings published in the International Journal for Editorial Integrity.

If content does earn a passing grade, it won’t benefit a student’s long-term education, said Woods. “Unless they manage to pay someone to take their exams, then they’re the ones getting screwed over. They don’t learn the content that will show up on the final.

In a 2019 study published in the Journal of Computers and Education, researchers found that student procrastination or outright laziness was not the biggest factor motivating the outsourcing of their assignments. Almost 41% of students outsourced work because they felt they could not persevere with an assignment (it being “tedious, stressful, boring, or exhausting”), while 28.86% felt they lacked the skills to complete it. Personal issues, illness, and employment were other reported factors. Researchers Lancaster and Alexander Amigud concluded: “outsourcing behaviour is a form of students’ quitting without losing the qualification they were working towards.”

While offering contract cheating services is against the law in 17 U.S. states, it is difficult to prosecute essay mills, as a lack of evidence prevents university staff from reporting the cases when they occur. To successfully convict a company, prosecutors must link an essay to the essay mill, said David Bloomfield, professor of educational leadership, law and policy at Brooklyn College.

“The connection between a single essay and the company selling it is difficult to prove. The college has better recourse to disciplining the student,” said Bloomfield. 

Universities are using anti-plagiarism software like Turnitin to detect plagiarized work, but that doesn’t catch custom work.

If it’s truly an original essay, anti-plagiarism software used by many higher education institutions would not catch it,” Bloomfield said.

When combined with Authorship Investigate to detect deviations from students’ other assignments in a study, Turnitin increased the likelihood of finding essay mill work from 48 to 59%, says Turnitin’s site. That’s still more than a third of essays able to make it through.

Other countries face the same issue. New Zealand passed a law in 2011 banning the advertising of contract-cheating services, but it’s struggled to hold essay mills accountable. After settling a $1.3 million case with Assignments4u in 2018, the company agreed to cease operations. However, it is still operating across the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

A U.K. essay mill operating under the name PenDrago contracts writers through writingjobz.com. Although it promises high pay, the website reveals a forum-like marketplace where writers underbid each other for work. Despite charging students high fees, U.S. writers can end up with a fee below minimum wage. 

Essay mills portray their businesses as student support services, leading writers to believe they are doing the right thing.

“The most successful university model is one that works with our industry rather than sees it as taboo or tries to control it,” Daniel Dennehy, COO at UK Essays, wrote for Times Higher Education in 2016. “Accepting that the support students are seeking can be a huge benefit to them, and therefore to overall university results, is both brave and insightful.” 

UK Essays, PenDrago, Writingjobz, EduVinci and Assignments4U did not respond to a Zenger News request for comment.

Conversely, academics want contract cheating stopped but believe a joint effort is needed from legislatures, students and universities.

“A single approach to tackling contract cheating will not be enough. We need to approach this from multiple directions. We also need to take a strong line against the companies providing these services,” said Lancaster.

(Edited by Fern Siegel and Cathy Jones.)



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Justice Department accuses Yale of discriminating against Asian, white applicants

Justice Department accuses Yale of discriminating against Asian, white applicants

The U.S. Department of Justice has determined that Yale University has illegally discriminated against white and Asian college applicants by establishing quotas for Ivy League hopefuls of other races.

A two-year investigation concluded the elite Connecticut university for violating federal civil rights law “by discriminating on the basis of race and national origin,” Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband wrote in a letter to the school’s attorney on Thursday.

“Yale’s discrimination is long-standing and ongoing,” Dreiband wrote, adding that race was the “determinative factor” in hundreds of admissions decisions each year.

Yale President Peter Salovey called the accusation “baseless” and said the Justice department reached its conclusion “without conducting a fully informed analysis, which would have shown that Yale’s practices absolutely comply with decades of Supreme Court precedent.”

Yale has turned over documents and admissions data to the government, but didn’t provide all the information requested before the Justice department issued its findings, Salovey said.

Salovey said in a statement that Yale won’t change its admissions processes. The Justice department “is seeking to impose a standard that is inconsistent with existing law,” he said.

Drieband said Yale won’t be permitted to use race or national origin a sadmissions criteria for the upcoming school year, and threatened a federal lawsuit if the school doesn’t begin complying within two weeks.

Yale reported 49.3% of its class of 2023 self-identified as white, 25.9% as Asian American, 15% as Hispanic/Latino and 11.8% as black. Nineteen percent of the students identified as multiple ethnicities and are represented in more than one category, the school said.

Yale admitted just 6.3% of 36,844 applicants in 2019.

The Justice department launched its probe after Asian-American organizations filed a complaint in 2016 about alleged discriminatory admissions practices at Yale and two other Ivy League institutions, Dartmouth College and Brown University. Those two complaints were dismissed because there was a lack of evidence.

The president of the Asian American Coalition for Education, which filed the complaint, applauded the Justice department’s move.

“We are grateful that the federal government has taken additional actions to safeguard equal education rights, especially the equal rights of Asian-American children who have been long scapegoated by racial preferences in education,” Yukong Zhao said in a statement.

The department’s conclusion did not come as a surprise to Edward Blum, the president of Students for Fair Admissions, who expects more challenges to affirmative action policies at colleges.

“All of the Ivy League and other competitive universities admit to using racial classifications and preferences in their admissions policies. This investigation reinforces the need for all universities to end race-based admissions policies,” Blum said in a statement.

Students for Fair Admission has led the charge against several other colleges, including  Harvard University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, over their use of affirmative action in admissions.

The nonprofit group, led by a conservative lawyer, claimed Harvard’s policies were biased against Asian-Americans, but a federal district court ruled in October that the policies weren’t discriminatory.

Students for Fair Admissions has appealed the ruling.

(Edited by David Martosko.)



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